Categories: American Notables.
Percival Lawrence Lowell (March 13, 1855 – November 12, 1916) was an American businessman, author, mathematician, and astronomer who fueled speculation that there were canals on Mars. He founded the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, and formed the beginning of the effort that led to the discovery of Pluto 14 years after his death.
Author, Astronomer, and Mathematician. He is best remembered for his extensive study of the planet Mars and his theory of a hypothetical planet beyond the planet Neptune that was eventually discovered by astronomer Clyde Tombaugh in 1930 and named Pluto.
Born into a wealthy family, he graduated in 1872 from the Noble and Green School at Dedham, Massachusetts and Harvard University at Cambridge, Massachusetts four years later with a degree in mathematics. He ran a cotton mill for the next six years before serving as a foreign secretary and counsellor to a Korean mission to the US and travelled extensively in the Far East, returning permanently to the US in 1893.
While travelling in the Far East, he authored the books "Chosön: The Land of the Morning Calm" (1886), "The Soul of the Far East" (1888), "Noto: An Unexplored Corner of Japan" (1891), and "Occult Japan" (or "Way of the Gods") (1894).
He then dedicated his life to astronomy and established the Lowell Observatory at Flagstaff, Arizona where he primarily studied the planet Mars and developed his theories on the planet's "canals" that were created by a dying ancient civilization.
He published his views in the books "Mars" (1895), "Mars and Its Canals" (1906), and "Mars As the Abode of Life" (1908). (His "canal" theories were eventually disproven by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Mariner space missions to Mars that took place in the 1960s.)
In 1906 he started a search program for "Planet X" which by his calculations lay beyond the orbit of Neptune. In 1915 his observatory photographed what would eventually turn out to be the new planet Pluto. His theory of life on Mars would greatly influence science fiction novels, including H.G. Wells' "The War of the Worlds" (1898), Edgar Rice Burroughs' "The Gods of Mars" (1918), Robert A. Heinlein's "Red Planet" (1949), and Ray Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles" (1950).
He died from a stroke at the age of 61.
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